SAN JOSE, Calif. – How did you spend your summer vacation? For Norris Trophy winner Brent Burns of the San Jose Sharks, one of the answers would be at a Buffalo Bisons game.
Burns and nearly two dozen friends and family members showed up unannounced at the Bisons' July 1 game against Syracuse in Coca-Cola Field to celebrate a bachelor party for longtime friend and Toronto native John Asselstine. Burns is from Barrie, a short drive north of Toronto, and is a big Blue Jays' fan who attended some World Cup press conferences last year wearing a Blue Jays toque as the team was in its September playoff push.
"It was awesome, my first time going to a game up there in Buffalo," Burns said after practice in the Sharks' facility a few miles from SAP Center. "A little Bisons, see some Blue Jays guys and it made it for a pretty cool night."
The Bisons got wind of Burns' appearance during the game when a tweet from his account had a picture of Asselstine by the former Irish Times bar across Swan Street from the ballpark gate. Brad Bisbing, the team's director of marketing and public relations, checked with the sales staff and they confirmed a large party from Canada had purchased a suite for the night and said it was for a bachelor party.
— Brent Burns (@Burnzie88) July 1, 2017
Bisbing then headed over to the suite to meet Burns and get some pictures, both for himself and the team. Burns even hit the Jumbotron later in the game for the nightly "Celebrity Look-a-like" feature the Bisons do. Except in this case, the fan in the stands who looked like Brent Burns was actually ... Brent Burns.
"It was quite a surprise when we saw the post on social media," Bisbing said. "Brent is one of the top players in the NHL and as we found out, a genuinely good guy, too. He asked questions about the Bisons and our history, signed baseballs for our charity Mystery Ball event and made himself available to our fans. And of course, a pretty obvious selection for our Celebrity Look-a-like."
Burns, 32, had apparently already purchased a Bisons jersey, was photographed with Buster Bison, and agreed to sign some balls for the club's "Mystery Ball" promotion.
"It was a very cool time, very cool experience," Burns said. "They have a great stadium. It's fun to go see other sports teams and it was a really cool place, really sweet.
"They came up for the mystery balls. I signed a couple for them and I said, "Absolutely I'll help and I'd love to get some balls if you can for my guys.' They were great about it."
— Buffalo Bisons (@BuffaloBisons) July 2, 2017
In addition to his breakneck style of play, Burns has become an icon in the NHL as his wild hair and beard and gap-toothed smile have made him one of the most recognizable players in the game. His profile grew even more during the Sharks' 2016 Stanley Cup final run, but they're a team in transition now with the loss of longtime stalwart Patrick Marleau to Toronto.
"It's just hockey, man. You just have to play, especially at the start of the year," he said. "You're just trying to work through some things, get some confidence up. It's a long season. We lost our first two and you're not happy about that but you show up every day to get better. That's really true at this point."
Burns had career highs of 29 goals and 76 points last season, but had just one assist in the first three games this year with a minus-5 rating. The Sharks were rather ordinary during their 3-2 win over the Sabres on Thursday, which followed losses to Philadelphia and Los Angeles.
Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said it's been a pleasure to see Burns' continued evolution from simple star to NHL icon.
"He's such a positive guy and such a great athlete," DeBoer said. "It's amazing. There's very few guys I've coached where, you're standing by the boards running practice and he can amaze you with a play or a shot or something he's done. He's so physically talented, one of the most talented I've ever been around. He's a pleasure, comes to the rink every day with positive energy for everyone around him."
This corner can second that after visiting with Burns on Wednesday. The combination baseball-hockey interview over, Burns threw his backpack over his shoulder, stood up and said, "Thanks for coming all the way from Buffalo to see me, man. Have a great day."
— Brad Bisbing (@BradBisbing) July 1, 2017
Knights winning on Twitter too
The most intriguing subplot of the Sabres' road trip will be Monday's practice and Tuesday's game in Las Vegas against the expansion Golden Knights. They won their first three games, a first in NHL history, before losing Friday night to Detroit, 6-3, and became a rallying point for the city since the October 1 massacre at the Route 91 Harvest Festival across from Mandalay Bay. The scene of the shooting is less than a mile from T-Mobile Arena.
You would expect many Buffalo expats at the game as well and many fans are making the trek from Buffalo for the Sabres' first visit, even with the game on a Tuesday night. Prices are not exorbitant on StubHub, with some upper level seats in the $45 range and even some 100 levels still floating around $95.
For those in the rink or watching at home, one must-do Tuesday night will be to follow the team's official Twitter feed at @GoldenKnights. Quite simply, it has captured the buzz of NHL social media with its quick wit and wisecracks. Here's a sampling:
*After Friday's 6-3 loss to Detroit ended the Knights 3-0 run to start the season: "We hope the 1972 @MiamiDolphins have fun with their champagne"
We hope the 1972 @MiamiDolphins have fun with their champagne👎
— Vegas Golden Knights (@GoldenKnights) October 14, 2017
*A few hours before the Detroit game, the Knights tweeted "Tonight's contest features two teams entering the evening having made the playoffs in the same number of consecutive seasons." (The Wings, of course, saw their 25-year playoff run end last season).
— Vegas Golden Knights (@GoldenKnights) October 14, 2017
*Look for #hockeyhaikus, where the feed waxes poetic about what's going on during a game.
---The Knights even took on the Montreal Canadiens during the preseason, when the Habs' feed tweaked them for celebrating victories. Responded Vegas: We're definitely proud! But not as proud as @CanadiensMTL are of how many championships they won when there were only 6 teams in the league."
— Vegas Golden Knights (@GoldenKnights) September 20, 2017
On the ice, people across the league are watching and wondering what Vegas GM George McPhee is doing with his roster. McPhee continues to have a surplus of defensemen taken in the expansion draft and has had to dispute reports Russian center Vadim Shipachyov is unhappy being stashed in the AHL and wants to return home to the KHL.
Shipachyov signed a two-year, $9 million contract over the summer but has joined Alex Tuch and Shea Theodore in landing with the Chicago Wolves because they were waiver-eligible and McPhee does not want to lose any assets for free so early in the franchise's first season. Shipachyov has not gone to Chicago but has remained in Las Vegas, clearly while McPhee works on a potential trade of some of the defensemen.
"This is a roster move that’s not about performance,” McPhee told Vegas reporters. “The three guys we sent down have all earned the right to be here, and we’ll get them here at the right time or as soon as we can.”
Losing is a disease
Jack Eichel's we-have-to-hate-losing rant after Thursday's loss in San Jose struck a chord to this corner because of the words of Marcus Foligno the previous day in Minnesota.
The former Sabres winger advanced to the Wild's top line alongside Eric Staal and Charlie Coyle for Thursday's game in Chicago and said there's a marked difference in playing for the Wild under Bruce Boudreau than playing in Buffalo.
"Just the mentality going into games,” Foligno explained to the St. Paul Pioneer Press. “Losing is not an option. You know, in Buffalo, maybe they were a little more lenient because we were such a young group. That isn’t the case here. Winning is the only option.”
Winning, obviously, was far from the Sabres' only option, especially from 2013-2015. They're still trying to hone in on the right focus.
Pominville moved by '06-'07 memories
Sabres winger Jason Pominville smiled when told Friday that Kings rookie and Eden native Alex Iafallo idolized the 2006 and 2007 teams while a 13-year-old.
"The impact of those teams really stands out when you hear that," Pominville said. "For someone like me, even though it means you've been in the league for a little while, it shows how much what we did meant to the city and younger hockey players.
"The following we got was amazing back then and everywhere you go now, one of the first things people bring up to me still is those teams. It had an impact on the city more than we would ever know at the time."
Around the boards
* The AHL will match the NHL with 31 teams starting next year as the ECHL's Colorado Eagles will move up to the AHL and be the farm team for the Avalanche. They will play in Loveland, about 50 miles from Denver. San Antonio, which currently has Colorado farmhands, will link with St. Louis next season. The Blues are currently sharing the Chicago Wolves with Vegas, and will turn that over to the Golden Knights next season.
* The NHL and NHLPA reportedly met Thursday in Toronto as part of a next-step discussion for international hockey. TSN said it was the first meeting since the league's decision to not go to the Olympics, and will focus on more games in China and Europe. The Canucks and Kings took a preseason trip to China last month while the Senators and Avalanche will play two games next month in Stockholm.
* Leafs coach Mike Babcock, when asked about Auston Matthews' 87 percent Corsi rating in the Leafs' overtime win Monday against Chicago: "The beauty about it is you think about that word 'analytics.' You think about how many more people are working in hockey. We don't know if any of it's true but we know they're working in hockey. So good for them."